Cheneys shouldn’t expect automatic support from any RepublicanBy Kerry Drake — October 8, 2013
Al Simpson has every right to be angry at Lynne Cheney, and not just for telling him to “shut up” at a dinner party. When she publicly denied it, the wife of the former vice president effectively called him a liar, and I’m sure that got Simpson’s blood boiling even more than the first insult.
And it should have, especially since it came from a long-time friend who seems to think that because her daughter Liz moved to Wyoming so she could run for the U.S. Senate, everyone — including Simpson — should automatically give him her support.
Simpson gave his account of this political spat in a lengthy letter to the Cody Enterprise, which concluded that he had more important things to do, but “if other folks want to keep this ping pong ball bouncing back and forth in the air, have a go at it.”
Don’t mind if I do. This is such a bizarre story in so many ways, I can’t help myself.
Briefly, this is what happened: At a non-political Laramie event, Simpson was asked by Liz Cheney and her daughter to sign a football. He did, but had second thoughts because he’s autographed other things that have turned up being auctioned for political causes he did not support. His wife Ann conveyed to Liz Cheney’s daughter that he wanted to take his name off the ball, and it was done, though not without some awkward explanations. This was apparently the first time Liz Cheney realized that Simpson was going to publicly support her opponent, incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi, in the race.
Flash-forward a week to a fundraiser for the Buffalo Bill Center for the West in Simpson’s hometown of Cody. Liz’s mother, Lynne, approached Simpson and said, “I can’t believe how you embarrassed my granddaughter and Liz at that event in Laramie.”
Simpson explained that wasn’t his intent. Then Cheney asked him, “How could you forget the little eight-year-old girl (Liz) who campaigned with us and for you in 1978? How could you not support her?”
Simpson started to explain about his 35-year friendship with Enzi, but said Cheney cut him off.
“Oh, I’ve heard enough of that and I don’t want to hear anymore. I just want to tell you something, ‘Shut up – just shut up – shut up.’ Three times,” the former three-term senator wrote in his letter to the Enterprise. “I wandered off – stunned. I went back to my table, told my family (who were my guests) what had occurred. They were also shocked.”
Simpson’s daughter-in-law wrote about the incident on Facebook, where it quickly came to the attention of the media. Asked to respond, Lynne Cheney put out a statement that said, “As to the story posted on Facebook I have to admit I am at a bit of a loss. That simply did not happen.”
Naturally, rather than just shutting up, Simpson went on the offensive. Again, from his Enterprise letter: “[T]hat twisted comment is one damn bald-faced lie and I have had a belly full of it! I have never been called a liar before and it sure as hell won’t work this time. … I lay my reputation flat on the line before my fellow Wyomingites who know Ann and me, but I sure don’t have to take that guff from anyone – whenever – whoever – ever!”
What amazes me in the flurry of comments about this incident is how many people have either 1) claimed it shouldn’t have been made public and 2) used it to bash and blame Simpson.
On the first count, what Lynne Cheney said was at a public event, and it’s fair game for it to enter the realm of political news. Actually, it doesn’t matter where it happened: If the wife of the former vice president tells a former U.S. senator to “shut up” because he won’t support her daughter — or for any reason — it’s news.
I have no doubt that if Simpson’s daughter-in-law had not written about it on Facebook, what transpired at the cocktail party probably wouldn’t have gone any further. But all of Simpson’s family was shocked, and she had every right to write about it. When Lynne Cheney denied it after the story became public, Simpson — in addition to defending his own honor — probably felt compelled to stand up for his daughter-in-law’s truthfulness, too.
Others have said Simpson shouldn’t have bothered to make a big deal about the football and demand that his name be removed. But if such incidents have come back to bite him before, I don’t blame him. In reality, the football part of the story is minor — the real issue was that the Cheneys learned their old pal was backing Enzi instead of Liz, and it didn’t set well with Lynne or her daughter.
When speculation appeared in the national media that Liz Cheney might take on Enzi in the Republican primary, The New York Times asked Simpson what he thought about it. Simpson didn’t mince words (when does he?) and said that if they both run it would be terrible for the Republican Party in Wyoming. I think he was right.
“It’s a disaster — a divisive, ugly situation — and all it does is open the door for the Democrats for 20 years,” Simpson told The Times.
What I find even more fascinating about Simpson’s explanation in the Enterprise about his skirmish with Lynne Cheney is what he revealed about a conversation he had with Liz Cheney right before she announced her candidacy:
“She called me saying in effect, ‘I hope you won’t say the same things when I announce that you said before.’ And I said, ‘Oh? Why not?’ She said, ‘I didn’t like it and I hope you’ll say something different.’ I said, ‘Like what?’ And she said, ‘Just say, “It’s going to be a spirited race.”‘ I said ‘I don’t think I’ll say that.’
“But she continued to cajole and work on me for me to say something else that she wanted. I was rather appalled at that but we had a cordial conversation and she asked me to tell her what I had heard about her, and I told her, much to her irritation – at least as to one aspect – and I told her what negatives people have said about me, and she said, ‘I agree. I have heard that.’ It ended on a cordial note. I said, ‘I think you’re headed into a really tough race. The people who care for you now do that because of the admiration for your parents and the high regard in which they, and your whole family, are held in Wyoming – but when you get into the real fray, it will be a whole different ballgame. Believe it.’”
When she did announce, Simpson’s public response was simply, “I care deeply about them both and I have nothing more to say.”
Elections can do terrible things to friendships, and the Simpson-Cheney tension is a heightened example of that. I don’t blame Liz Cheney for trying to win Simpson’s support, but once he’s made up his mind who he will endorse, it’s arrogant for her or anyone else in her family to try to dictate to him what he’s going to say.
What Lynne and Liz Cheney both said to Simpson conveys a sense of entitlement. It was the equivalent of saying, “If the Cheneys want your support, we will get it.” But as a political family, the Cheneys should be the first ones to understand that ties run deep, and Simpson has every right to show his support for a long-time friend whose politics match his own. It doesn’t mean he’s not also a friend of Dick Cheney.
I’ve known Lynne Cheney for many years, back when her husband was a Wyoming congressman, and my encounters with her have always been pleasant. She is a bright, intelligent woman, and she’s probably already figured this out, but here’s my two-part advice to her: 1) don’t ever call Al Simpson a liar again, and 2) if you’re going to tell every Wyoming Republican who doesn’t support your daughter to “shut up,” it will take up far more of your time between now and the primary election than you have to waste.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
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